51 Former State Attorneys General Push for Reasonable Prisoner Phone Rates in Letter to FCC

New York—More than 50 former state attorneys general today strongly urged the Federal Communications Commission to establish reasonable rates for prisoner phone calls to help prisoners maintain connections with family members, a factor known to reduce recidivism.

These former law enforcement officials—51 in all—signed on to a letter submitted to the FCC as part of the agency’s public comment session on a petition to have calls made within a state set at reasonable rates. The agency previously capped the price of prisoner phone calls between states. The letter was circulated by Columbia Law School’s National State Attorneys General Program and its director, James E. Tierney, who signed as the former Attorney General of Maine, in collaboration with the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of people held in US detention facilities.

“We fully understand the pressures on state budgets and how government often struggles to come up with enough funding to do even the simplest of things,” the letter states. “We also are fully aware that 95 percent of the 2.2 million people held in prison and jails in the United States will one day be returned to society. We know that recidivism rates are high and that we as a society should do all we can to lower that rate.”

The petition and the letter submitted today by the bipartisan group of former attorneys general argue that high phone rates are passed on to the consumers who pay for the calls—generally prisoners’ relatives—and impede an inmate’s ability to maintain crucial family contacts, including with their sons and daughters. An estimated 2.7 million children in the US have an incarcerated parent.

“Research shows that incarcerated people who maintain supportive relationships with family members have better outcomes—such as stable housing and employment—when they return to the community,” Tierney said, adding that excessive phone rates make it difficult, if not impossible to maintain these critical ties during times of incarceration.

Read the letter.